This week on Behind the Headlines, the duo producing and directing the hit Israeli series “Shtisel” speaks with The Times of Israel just ahead of Thursday’s global launch of the show’s third season on Netflix.
The interview is now available to stream for Times of Israel Community members, but it’s not too late to join the ToI Community now to access this week’s segment, along with past episodes and the rest of our wide-ranging library of exclusive content.
Producer Dikla Barkai and director Alon Zingman discuss how the show, a niche Hebrew-language series about the little-known, insular ultra-Orthodox community, has grown into the mainstream sensation it is today. The show has also brought several of its Israeli actors into full-blown stardom, notably actress Shira Hass, who after making her television debut on “Shtisel” went on to win multiple Ophir awards – the Israeli equivalent of an Academy Award. For her leading role in the Netflix series, “Unorthodox,” Haas caught the world’s attention and she was nominated for a Primetime Emmy, Critic’s Choice, and Golden Globe Award for best actress.
In addition to “Shtisel,” Barkai and Zingman have previously collaborated on the 10-part series “The Conductor,” starring Lior Ashkenazi. No amount of experience, however, could prepare a filmmaking team for the experience of shooting at the peak of a global pandemic.
Speaking with Times of Israel Culture and Lifestyle Editor Jessica Steinberg, the pair describes what it was like on set as they filmed “Shtisel” season three this past July. But, as Steinberg keenly notes, filming logistics might pale in comparison to the complexity of filming a show about an ultra-Orthodox family while political and sectarian tensions raged in Israel over what some perceived to be that community’s flouting of coronavirus health regulations.
“We stay away from these political conflicts between societies,” says Barkai. “We want to tell a story about human beings, about people. ‘Shtisel’ has never been [an ultra-Orthodox] series. Of course, you cannot ignore the environment and what’s going on, but we stayed in our world with our characters.”
“I think there’s been a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings between secular and Orthodox societies for decades,” says Zingman, as Steinberg points out that filming took place in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. “But we got to know them [during filming] and saw that there’s a lot of colors and a lot of shades, and it’s not always black and white as the media portrays. The story is a little bit more complex than what is shown on the news.”
The attitude is consistent with the people-first formula that’s made “Shtisel” so popular among diverse communities around the world – some of whom may not have even met a Jewish person before.
“Viewers outside of Israel, or viewers who are not Jewish – I don’t know if they really know when a character speaks Yiddish or Hebrew, or about all the different customs and rituals. And it really doesn’t matter,” says Zingman. “Because what we’re focusing on is the human presence, the human condition, the human story of the Shtisel family, and the rituals and other aspects we give in this world is a bonus. It’s something that you can learn about, study a little bit more about what they’re doing and why, but it’s not what we’re focusing on.”
To see this and future episodes of Behind the Headlines, join the Times of Israel Community today. You’ll also gain access to all of our exclusive online content, an ad-free experience of the ToI site and apps, and a weekly insider letter from David Horovitz.
If you are already a ToI Community member, you’ll receive a link to all Behind the Headlines sessions by email.